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Fair Housing

What the new criminal background checks mean for real estate

The Fair Housing Act provides guidance regarding homebuyer and renter background checks.

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If you consider that that nearly a third of Americans, 100 million people in all, have a criminal record (with an additional 650,000 released from prison each year) it kind of justifies some seeking to run a criminal background check on a potential client for sales or rental purposes.

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At the recent [REALTORS] Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C., a forum titled, “Criminal Background Checks, Fair Housing Compliance and You” posited that, “The three things [realtors] need to do when developing a program are have consistent procedures, uniform standards, and an explanation for criminal background check programs.”

Just who is protecting whom?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published the Fair Housing Act guidance on April 4 that has raised concerns for housing providers who use criminal history screening processes to make decisions about sales, rentals financing and other real estate activity.

Consider this: minorities are a protected class under the Fair Housing Act. Persons with criminal records are not. So are those individuals being biased? The interpretation of HUD’s guidance is that creating arbitrary or blanket criminal-based policies and restrictions could potentially violate the Fair Housing Act.

Do’s and Don’ts

For its part, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) has summarized HUD’s guidance in a “Do’s and Don’ts” guide, with tips that urge real estate professionals to uniformly consider criminal history, regardless of an individual’s protected class status, while avoiding policies that exclude anyone based on arrest records alone. Selected examples can be seen below:

Do’s Don’ts
Create tailored criminal history-based policies/practices. Don’t create arbitrary or overly-broad criminal history-based policies/practices.
Be sure to have clear, specific reasoning for the criminal history-based policy/practice that can be supported by evidence. Don’t maintain a policy/practice, or any portion thereof, that does not serve a substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest.
Exclude individuals only based on criminal convictions that present a demonstrable risk to resident safety or property. Don’t create exclusions based on arrest records alone.
Consider the nature and severity of an individual’s conviction before excluding the individual based on the conviction. Don’t create a blanket exclusion of any person with any conviction record.

Granted, everyone has a right to live wherever they can afford, and that means strong support for the Fair Housing Act and its mission. The better understanding that realtors have of the rules and regulations affecting their businesses allow them to further strengthen the communities they serve, while ensuring equal housing opportunities for the people who live there.

#FairHousing

Nearly three decades living and working all over the world as a radio and television broadcast journalist in the United States Air Force, Staff Writer, Gary Picariello is now retired from the military and is focused on his writing career.

Fair Housing

Some landlords refuse to rent to Trump supporters, others to Mexicans, others to single moms – which of these is legal?

Landlords violate Fair Housing laws from time to time, sometimes knowingly, other times unaware of their illegal acts. But sometimes discrimination is totally legal. Let’s discuss.

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Just recently, a Colorado landlord posted a notice that he would refuse to rent to someone who supported Donald Trump. Strangely, this practice is legal. The Fair Housing Act does not have provisions for political views. However, according to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, landlords cannot take any of the following actions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap:

  • Refuse to rent or sell housing
  • Refuse to negotiate for housing
  • Make housing unavailable
  • Deny a dwelling
  • Set different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling
  • Provide different housing services or facilities

Protecting consumers in California

The agency responsible for violations is HUD. Tenants can file complaints with HUD, but many times, minorities and immigrants aren’t even aware that discrimination has occurred. This is the situation in Santa Clara, California. An apartment complex allegedly refused to accept Mexican forms of identification, such as a passport, while they encouraged an individual with a Canadian passport to apply for a rental. Mexican families had no way of knowing that they were being discriminated against.

Project Sentinel, which is a fair housing non-profit organization discovered the discrepancy and reported it to HUD. After six months of investigations and negotiations, a settlement was reached. The apartment complex, DBA Income Property Specialists, and the owners and managers came to an agreement whereby they would give Project Sentinel a monetary settlement and go through training to ensure they would not be discriminating in the future. It was a rather costly error in judgment for Income Property Specialists.

A Texas agency dealing with Fair Housing

In Texas, the Texas Workforce Commission is the state agency responsible for monitoring rental properties.

TWC offers training for management companies and developers who are required to have the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs fair housing training. In addition, there are many resources available through the website to ensure your rentals are operating under the Fair Housing Act.

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Fair Housing

Landlords charged with discrimination for allowing harassment of tenants with disabilities

Fair Housing protects against discrimination, so when a landlord asks someone to move out because other residents are harassing them for being disabled, HUD takes action.

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As real estate agents and brokers, you are hopefully well versed in the Fair Housing Act, which protects tenants and homeowners from discrimination.

A recent case of housing discrimination in Wisconsin serves as a poignant reminder that landlords and housing managers are not only responsible for providing housing fairly, but also for protecting tenants against hate and harassment based on factors such as race, religion, gender, or, in this case, disability.

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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are charging the owners and managers of a Cross Plains, Wisconsin apartment building with violations of the Fair Housing Act.

According to the suit, William Ranguette and Candice Wood, owners and managers of the Applewood senior housing complex, failed to address the harassment of their tenants, a mother and daughter who were being harassed on the basis of their disabilities.

Tenants were taunted for being disabled

The mother, who has cerebral palsy, and her daughter, who has Down’s Syndrome, reported that other tenants would follow them home and insult them, saying things like “you don’t belong here, you belong in an institution,” and hurling other abuses.

The mother reported these incidents to the local police, who issued warnings – but the harassment continued.

When the tenant reported these incidents to the apartment managers, she was told that she was causing too much trouble and was pressured to move. The tenants received a notice that their lease would not be renewed, and they moved out.

Renters should never feel degraded

According to Housing and Urban Development assistant secretary Gustav Velasquez, “A person’s home should be where they feel the greatest level of comfort – not anguish and fear because of being subjected to humiliating and degrading comments.”

“Harassing a person because of their disability is not only disturbing, it is illegal,” Velasquez concludes.

It is likewise both heartless and illegal for a housing manager to refuse to intervene to prevent harassment.

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Fair Housing

Huge SCOTUS case ruling impacts real estate, has nothing to do with marriage or healthcare

The Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding claims made under the Fair Housing Act attacks racisim head-on and frankly, it’s about time.

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Before and during the Civil Rights Movement, the struggle against racial discrimination was fairly clear cut. Jim Crow Laws explicitly barred black Americans from access to housing, education, and public amenities. In the modern day, racism is more insidious. Even the most prejudiced bigots know better than to try to get away with blatantly discriminatory policies—and yet there are still huge disparities in access to housing amongst different races and ethnic groups. One reason is because policies can sometimes have a discriminatory effect, even if they don’t obviously intend to.

That’s why the Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding claims made under the Fair Housing Act is so important. The Fair Housing Act, which passed in 1968, protects renters and home owners from racial discrimination. A recent Supreme Court decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project ruled that claims can be filed under the Fair Housing Act if a law or practice has “disparate impact” – meaning it impacts different racial groups in discriminatory ways, even without explicitly intending to do so.

Why you should understand disparate impact claims

Disparate impact claims are important because it is very unlikely that housing authorities, landlords, and lawmakers will ever admit to knowingly discriminating on the basis of race. However, certain laws and practices nonetheless have the effect of favoring white tenants and homeowners over other races. The recent Supreme Court decision helps address these more subtle forms of racism, while strengthening the original intention of the Fair Housing Act to eliminate discriminatory housing practices.

The court did create some restrictions for disparate impact claims, and sent the case back to the lower courts to see if The Inclusive Communities Project’s claims were still legitimate given these restrictions. A defendant in a case claiming disparate impact cannot be held liable for statistical disparities in housing unless the plaintiff can prove that the defendant’s practices or policies caused the disparity. Housing authorities and private developers can also defend their policy if it is necessary to achieve a valid, non-discriminatory goal.

These restrictions may pose challenges for individuals seeking justice for housing discrimination. Yet overall, the Supreme Court’s recent decision shows that civil rights laws like the Fair Housing Act are designed to do more than just pay lip service to equality – they are meant to address the real life effects of discriminatory practices and policies.

#SCOTUSFairHousing

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